Suffering Souls – Sermon – 19 April 2020

Welcome: Video from The Stanley Family

Pastor’s Welcome

Welcome once again to our (temporary) new way to worship together! This is the fifth Sunday we have not been able to be together and we very much look forward to the day we will all be back together in the church sanctuary. It is my hope that this time apart will not just be something we endure, but an opportunity we seize to draw even closer to each other and to God.

While in many ways it is very difficult to connect with each other, I have been hearing more and more from people who are telling me they have been feeling more connected to and loved by each other than ever! More phone calls and ‘face time,’ more shared meals and words of encouragement. If this has not been your experience – if this past month has been more of a lonely struggle – please consider opening up to one of your brothers or sisters and share your heart with them. We are all the church – one body of Christ – and we are strongest when we are connected to each other.

We are also strongest when we are firmly connected with God. You may have noticed that the format of my messages have been much different than the standard sermon of the past – this is deliberate. Given the times we are in and the unique opportunity for spiritual growth it presents, my messages have been structured to give you multiple opportunities to stop, meditate and pray as you go along. You could breeze through these worship services in 15 minutes, but my hope is that you are spending much longer than that – even going back to it through the week to revisit questions that may have been more relevant to you.

However, you find yourself this morning, I hope you are sensing a growing awareness of God’s presence in your life, and I hope you are being encouraged by the presence of God’s people. It is our intent to stay in contact with as many people as possible, but if you need to talk please don’t hesitate to call me at 519-566-8024 (mobile) or email me at [email protected].

In addition, if you have any questions concerning today’s worship service or anything else; send them to me and I will answer them in a church wide communication (email or video) later in the week.

And so, let’s read the following Psalm of David to prepare us for worship this morning:

Call to Worship

Psalm 16

1 Keep me safe, my God,
for in you I take refuge.

2 I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
apart from you I have no good thing.”
3 I say of the holy people who are in the land,
“They are the noble ones in whom is all my delight.”
4 Those who run after other gods will suffer more and more.
I will not pour out libations of blood to such gods
or take up their names on my lips.

5 Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup;
you make my lot secure.
6 The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
surely I have a delightful inheritance.
7 I will praise the Lord, who counsels me;
even at night my heart instructs me.
8 I keep my eyes always on the Lord.
With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.

9 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will rest secure,
10 because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
nor will you let your faithful one see decay.
11 You make known to me the path of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

Reflection

After reading this Psalm of David, spend a few moments considering the following 2 questions. It may be helpful to read the Psalm one more time.

  1. Have you found yourself pursuing “other gods” (first priorities)?
  2. Where have you found yourself going in search of wisdom over the last few weeks?

Worship Song

Pastoral Prayer

Dear Heavenly Father,

We come to You today with minds that are scattered. We talk of a “new normal” all the time, but the reality is that we have no idea what normal even looks like. We are like the Israelites in the desert – moving towards their blurry vision of the promised land, while at the same time looking back longingly to the days when times were more certain, even if that certainty included being slaves to the Egyptians.

Give us clearer visions of both directions, Lord.

Help us to look back and see that while life was indeed more predictable and felt more secure, there were still too many times when we put our trust in ourselves, and our hope in our own abilities. Rather than long for days past, we confess our sins, and ask that you empower us to move forward in our lives with new minds and fresh faith as we learn to depend more and more on You.

And Help us Lord, to also look forward with increasing clarity that can only be ours through faith. You have blessed us with this life and have given us Your Spirit to live it in relationship with You, our ultimate hope. Because of You we are no longer subject to the law of sin and death, and because of You our lives can be lived in your never-ending presence. May knowledge of this truth and hope in our glorious future change us, especially in the ways we react to the challenges all around us.

We pray this morning for those who are struggling today – both those who are close to us and those around the world.

We pray for those who are suffering with this virus, and those who are caring for them.

We pray for those who are suffering in ways unrelated to this current crisis. May they too be able to receive the care they need.

We pray for those who are alone in their homes and separated from families and loved ones; alone in hospitals and care facilities; alone in their grief over loved ones lost.

We pray that all of us will seize the opportunity before us to draw closer to You – the One who is trustworthy and true.

May we all reach out to You for the blessing that can only come through enduring hardship and suffering. May we trust You and may we lean on the joy and hope of our salvation.

In Jesus Name we pray, Amen

Message – Suffering Souls

1 Peter 1:3-12

The passage today is from Peter’s letter to the churches all around the area that is now northern Turkey. Few Christians live there today, but in the early days of the church it was a cradle of the Gentile expansion of the gospel.

These new churches who were made up of followers not familiar with the God of the Jews were struggling in many ways. They had to deal with their estrangement from the Greco-Roman culture that they had been raised in, and that was all around them. From birth they would have been taught to obey the gods of Rome, and to be fully integrated with the rhythm of their pagan culture. In our day, we think of the conflict as between the religious and the secular, but 2,000 years ago virtually everyone was religious. Roman religion gave structure to the lives of every citizen through the numerous festivals, rituals and obligations it imposed. We might question the moral practices of the Roman Empire in the first century – but they were definitely not atheists!

With this in mind, read the passage below from 1 Peter slowly, paying attention to the clues pointing to the difficulties these early Christians were experiencing.

Praise to God for a Living Hope

1 Peter 1:3-12   New International Version (NIV)

3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, 11 trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow. 12 It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.

The Resurrection is Our Inheritance (verses 3-5)

There was a tremendous cost incurred by those who became followers of Jesus in the Roman world. Festivals they would have enjoyed all their lives became off limits to them as they involved the worship of other gods.

I’m not sure if we can really appreciate how that would have set them apart in their culture. Theirs was a society where families were very close and these were very much family celebrations – family meals, family rituals, family worship, family customs. To reject these would have been taken as a rejection of family.

Christians would then find themselves shunned by neighbours and cut off by their families – even excluded from their places of work. Generosity between each other was critical to their very survival. They needed to be family to each other.

Because the economy was heavily based on agriculture, the inheritance of land was very important. Christians were at risk of becoming destitute for generations if they were let out of the family will.

Yet Peter was reminding them here to keep their eyes on the proper inheritance. In fact, what they had gained through faith in Jesus Christ was far more than anything they would give up. Theirs was an inheritance that could “never perish, spoil or fade.”

Reflection

Have you ever counted on an inheritance in your own life? Peter isn’t saying an inheritance of worldly wealth is bad – just that it can’t compare to your Heavenly Father’s plan for you! Do you really believe this?

If you were faced with the same choices as these believers from Asia Minor and risked losing everything you knew and loved, would you have given up everything for this promise from God?

Keeping Your Hope Through Difficult Days (verses 6-8)

Are you one who is able to maintain your hope in Jesus, even though your suffering today seems to tell you it might not be worth it? We are a culture of instant gratification; a people who want everything to come easy and come now. In fact, when things are difficult, we often too easily give up and say, “It wasn’t meant to be.” We even find ourselves interpreting hardships and setbacks as signs we should just give up, as if God’s way should be the easy way. But Peter is telling a very different story to the churches of Asia Minor. In verse 7, he writes that these difficulties actually can be better seen as “tests for our faith.” Rather than give up, we are called to endure – with the promise that the pain will be well worth it. Perseverance in our faith strengthens it, and makes it more pure and joy filled.

Reflection

Have you experienced difficulties in your life?  What happens to your faith when you “suffer grief in all kinds of trials”? Does it get stronger or weaker?

  • Think of a time when challenges left your faith weaker. Bring it before God and ask Him to show how He was there with you in the midst of it.
  • Think of a time when you persevered through suffering and held tightly to your faith in God. How did that experience change you? Give thanks to God for how He used that perseverance to encourage you, and give you hope.

This Is Your Salvation (verses 9-12)

When Christians are asked, “What is salvation?”, we often respond by describing our view of life in heaven. That response isn’t wrong, but it does fall far short of being the whole answer. The “Salvation of our souls” Peter is referring to isn’t something we will only receive after our death; it is something we are in the process of receiving right now!

Our souls are not just this separate part of us that goes on to heaven when we die. Our souls are all of who we are – who we really are! Because of this everything we feel, think, do or hope for has an effect on our souls. If we choose to live our lives separated from God, our souls will inevitably be injured and diminished – falling short of all they were intended to be. But if we live our lives connected to God and nurture that connection, our souls will be filled up and healthy – on a path of growth and improvement as the Spirit does His work in us. This is salvation!

Reflection

How is your soul today? Some of you may be feeling that disconnection from God and from each other during this time of forced isolation. If this is you, spend a few moments just focussing on the presence of God in your life by imagining yourself as a small child climbing up on your Heavenly Father’s lap. If that is comforting to your soul, spend as much time there as you need.

For those who have found ways to stay connected with God over these last few weeks, don’t stop! Keep looking for ways you can continue to experience your salvation, and ask God to show you how to come alongside others who may be struggling.

Concluding Remarks

There is not one of us who wouldn’t be living our normal lives rather than this isolation if we had the choice. But we don’t have the choice.

What we do have is a Father in heaven who loves us and sent His Son to save us and bring us back to Him – forgiven and restored like the prodigal son of Luke 15. On top of all of that we have the Holy Spirit living in us, empowering us and changing us through the very presence of God!

The times we are experiencing are difficult, with challenges few of us were prepared for. But our God is good and wants to bless you, and make you whole.

Let’s close by singing together a familiar old hymn that is becoming more and more relevant every day!

HYMN: It is Well with My Soul

Benediction (Celtic)

Be still and aware of God presence

Within and all around. Amen